Dirty Tricks: Design and Maintain Your Garden with Dirt Diva, Adrianne Picciano
Dirty Tricks Down the Garden Path with Adrianne Picciano
In 2010, when Adrianne Picciano was trying to come up with a name for her fledgling gardening business, she remembered the moniker of a group of women dirt bikers out west: The Dirt Divas. “It’s kind of silly, like I am,” she smiles, “and it’s easy to remember.”
At the time, she was working at Silver Heights Nursery in Sullivan County. Former owner Trina Pilonero, a plant whisperer and heirloom variety advocate, encouraged Picciano to offer her services to the area’s many second-homeowners, who bought plants at the nursery but were challenged when it came to maintaining their gardens. So Picciano printed up some Dirt Diva cards and the rest, as they say, is her story.
Her work begins at ground level. “If a garden is going to have any success at all, edible or ornamental, it needs a solid foundation of healthy soil that’s full of organic matter,” she explains. Picciano’s first order of business is to assess the site and see what plants are already growing there without any help. She pokes a gardening fork into the ground to check the soil’s consistency and depth, then sends a sample to Cornell or Penn State to have it tested for nutrients.
“Very few of the gardens I work in actually have soil that’s deep, friable and free of rocks or clay,” says Picciano, “so I’ll bring in composted manure or make soil via the lasagna method.” This kind of sheet composting means layering materials on top of each other, then letting them break down in place for a year. She also builds a lot of raised beds, which are easier to maintain and help create good drainage.
The Dirt Diva’s approach to gardening can loosely be described as permaculture, a very broadly defined practice that Picciano interprets as “looking at the entire ecosystem and figuring out how to work with it and not against it.” She took a certification course at the Hancock Permaculture Center, where she studied under masters in the field alongside other gardeners, farmers and members of the green revolution. “Permaculture wants you to use what’s there,” she says. “Compost is a good example: helping the waste from your kitchen and garden to decompose into something that’s useful.”
In addition to designing, installing and maintaining gardens—the majority of them containing at least some edibles—Picciano also builds and maintains compost piles for her clients. More than half of them are second-homeowners who only see their gardens on the weekend. In the planning stages, she encourages them to put their beds right in front of the house or in very close proximity to where they go in and out. That way, they pass by the garden regularly and are more prone to water, prune and harvest as needed.
The work of gardening is very physical and Picciano has acquired the lean, sculpted lines of an athlete. Over the years, she has learned how critical it is to be efficient in her movements and always to have the right tool for the job. As she nears her 40s, she looks forward to doing more teaching and design consultation, both of which allow her to interact with people in the ways she values most.
“I love seeing the light go off in their heads when they realize how fun and rewarding it is to garden.” Before they know it, she’ll have them all making mud pies.
Contact Adrianne, the Dirt Diva.